LINCOLN — The destruction of a field of Indian corn, planted as a fundraiser and a cultural lesson for students on the Winnebago Indian Reservation, may have a silver lining.
As of Monday afternoon, a GoFundMe account, collecting donations to defray the destruction, had raised $12,297. That is nearly four times as much as the corn fundraiser raised last year.
"I was shocked when I found out about it," Dan Fehringer, superintendent of the Winnebago Public Schools, said of the outpouring of contributions.
The 2-acre plot of corn was mowed down on Thursday.
It was planted by officials with Ho-Chunk Farms, a tribal farming operation, on land owned by the St. Augustine Indian Mission. The corn was scheduled to be harvested by students enrolled in the Winnebago schools Academy program, a group of about 70 students who take college credit courses in high school and earn college scholarships.
Last year, the students earned $3,200 for the Academy scholarship program by harvesting the corn, which is then processed and sold to community members for things like corn soup, a traditional Ho-Chunk dish.
There was a mix of sadness and anger when it was discovered that a local farmer had mowed down the cornfield, Fehringer said.
"They took something away from our students that was very valuable for our students and our community, without understanding or asking," he said.
Whether the field was cut down accidentally or on purpose was still being looked into on Monday. Fehringer said the field was grown organically, so it was weedy, which might have caused someone to think it wasn't a cornfield. But, he added, "there should be some repercussions."
Soon after the field was cut down, a local resident, Emmy Scott, launched a GoFundMe account to collect donations online.
Scott, a 33-year-old who recently graduated from Michigan State University and is studying for the bar exam, said she was crushed when she heard about the destruction.
"It's not just about corn, but it's about the passing on of our cultural traditions," she said. The students looked forward to the harvest, which comes with prayers and ceremonies. A "green corn dance" is typically part of the Winnebago's annual powwow, to encourage a good harvest.
Fehringer said he learned about the fundraising effort on Sunday. By then, donations had reached about $11,000, with gifts coming in from around the world. Nearly 380 people had donated as of Monday.
"Pretty amazing," he said.
Scott said she just wanted to do something for the heartbroken kids at the school.